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The British Society for the Philosophy of Science

Review: Wittgenstein's Remarks on the Foundations of Mathematics

Author(s): G. Kreisel
Reviewed work(s):
Remarks on the Foundations of Mathematics by L. Wittgenstein
Bemerkungen über die Grundlagen der Mathematik by L. Wittgenstein
Source: The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science, Vol. 9, No. 34 (Aug., 1958), pp. 135
Published by: Oxford University Press on behalf of The British Society for the Philosophy of
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i Introduction

ITwill be convenient to distinguishin this review between (i) thefoundations

of mathematics or philosophyof mathematics and (ii) generalphilosophyin the
following way: the former applies to philosophically interestingdifferences
between various parts or aspects of mathematics, the latter, in so far as it
is concerned with mathematics, applies to philosophically interesting
differences between mathematics and other intellectual activities. For
instance, the questions 'what is a (correct) proof' or, generally, 'what is
mathematics' belong to general philosophy, 'what is a constructiveproof'
or ' what is a predicativeconcept' belong to the philosophy of mathematics.
Wittgenstein's remarks are concerned both with general philosophy
and with the philosophy of mathematics. The vivid and incisive language
(of the original 2) and the many stimulating questions apart, they make a
mixed impression. The aim of this review is to draw attention to observa-
tions which seem novel and stimulating, and to bring out their limitations.
More space is devoted to the latter because a reader who is interested in
the topics mentioned, will turn to the book itself for details.
I.I. In my opinion, Wittgenstein's significant contributions to the
philosophy of mathematicsconcern very elementarycomputations,a subject
which seems to have been neglected by contemporary philosophersthough
not e.g. by Kant. Also Wittgenstein emphasisesrepeatedlythose aspectsof
proofs which are neglected in the customary treatment by the methods of
mathematicallogic. These mattersare describedin sections 7 and 8 below.
His most striking fault is that he believed that all significant philosophical
problems occur at the level of elementary computations, and that he made
unwarranted generalisationsfrom this limited region of mathematics to
mathematics generally. But even if one is aware of other philosophical
problems, the book gives a misleading impression, because it suggests
1 L. Wittgenstein,Remarks the Foundations Basil Blackwell,
of Mathematics,
Oxford, I956, pp. xix + i96, 37s. 6d. The referencesin the review areto the German
2 L. Wittgenstein,
Bemerkungen iiberdieGrundlagen
derMathematik.MissG. E. M.
Anscombehas askedto publishsome correctionsto her translation.Thesewill be
foundat the end of this review.
an artificial dichotomy in the foundations of mathematics, so to speak:
Wittgenstein against the rest. In fact, the aspects emphasisedby him are
a few among many. To show this, and to put his observations in per-
spective, we give, in sections 5 and 6, some rough indications of research
in the foundations of mathematics. Naturally, large portions are only
indirectly connected with the book since their purpose is to indicate what
relevantmaterialwas left out of considerationaltogetherby Wittgenstein.
i.ia. In sections 9-12, I discuss a number of Wittgenstein's comments
on 'higher mathematics' which are, for the most part, uninformed. While
it would be foolish to dismiss the book becauseof the poor quality of these
comments, it seems desirableto deal with them to keep the record straight.
1.2. However, the bulk of the remarks is concerned with general
philosophy. To give some sort of intelligible account, it is necessary to
discover general themes to which these remarks are relevant. I believe
there are three:
I.2a. A theorem is a rule of language and the proof tells us how to
use the rule (p. 81, 39).
I.2b. The meaning of a theorem is determined only after the proof
(P. 79, 31 or p. 122, 30).
I.2c. A calculationis a (psychological) experiment (p. 99, 76).
I.2d. Further, I believe the link between these themes is that they
are naturally suggested by an empiricist's approach to the foundations
of mathematics: I am not concerned with discussing different brands of
empiricism, but with the general tendency of discussinga subject in terms
of things perceived and done, in short, of facts and phenomena (not in
contrast to real objects, but to introspective analysis and sophisticated
abstractionsused in the advanced sciences).
Wittgenstein does not accept the doctrines I.2a-I.2c; I.2a is criticised,
e.g. on page II9, I8; I.2b on page 77, 27, or page I65; and I.2c is rejected,
e.g. page 95, 67. Generally speaking, the fault lies in the assumption
(of naive empiricism)that there is a sharpdistinctionbetween the empirically
given and the means of description, while according to Wittgenstein
(p. 173) we need concepts to tell us what are the facts. These matters are
described in section 2.
N.B. In the sections concerned with generalphilosophy I go by impres-
sions and quotations out of context. Perhapsa professional philosopher
will examine my case on the basis of more substantialresearchthan I have
put into this review. Also it should be observed that, below, Part I of
the book is barely considered because it is closely related to Wittgenstein's
(for an exception see, e.g. p. II, 27).
I.3. What has been described so far is not at all like the popular
impression of 'Wittgenstein's philosophy' such as his anti-meta-
physics, his panaceas of rule of language and application,his attitude
to traditional schools of philosophy. Certainly, the book is not free from
these traits of Wittgenstein's writings: but I do not believe that they are
of any significance, and, in point of fact, when he embarks on serious
analysissuch as mentioned in I.I (and in sections 7 and 8 below), there is
no trace of them.
I.3a. Consider the argument against the notions of mathematical
object,necessity,truth,(e.g. p. 60, Io or p. 142, 16): they are supposed to be
metaphysical and to get in the way of straight thinking like alchemy.l
Even if this is granted, what about the reduction to rules of language or
rulesof grammar ? A grammaticalassertionsuch as ' " soon " is an adverb '
is establishedby an argument, it is not a simple choice once the notion of
an adverb.has been introduced, and similar problems arise here as with
mathematics. And when one really does not understandthe content of a
mathematicalproof or assertion, one does not know what to count as its
application (p. i65, line 3) or even where to look for it (cf. 6.3 below).
The effect of Wittgenstein's use of' application' is really to exclude intro-
spective analysis,and I am not convinced that this is right in the problems
which interest him specially (e.g. p. I20, 26).
I.3b. He regarded the traditional aims of philosophy, in particular
of crude empiricism, as unattainable. He objected to a mathematical
foundation of mathematics because the concepts used in the foundation
are not sufficiently different from the concepts described (p. 171, 13) and,
he thought (p. 177) that there are no mathematicalsolutions to his problems.
He said (p. 171, 13) that the aim of a philosophy of mathematics should
consist in a clarificationof its grammar (though I have not found a single
passagein the book which I could with certainty identify as a ' clarification
of grammar').
These general conclusionsare criticisedin sections 3 and 4.
1.4. I give a table of contents of this review to help those readerswho
get lost among the many and diverse topics which have to be mentioned
if an even remotely adequate idea of the content of this book is to be

Limitationsof Empiricism 2

Philosophyof Mathematics
Criticism of Wittgenstein's general views 3-4
Background material 5-6
1Anotherobjectioncitesthemisleading (mystifying)picturesthatmaybe associated
with thesenotions(e.g. p. 36, 19). Equallysuperficialobjectionscan be madeto
' ruleof
language': is it madeby a secretbody? Isit renewed?
K I37

Philosophyof Mathematics(cont.)
Strict Fihitism Wittgenstein's
cont. 7
Proof Theory Wttgenses contributions 8
Specific topics higher mathematics 9-12
I also add a personalnote 3

2 Limitationsof Empiricism
The present section has the modest aim of suggesting a framework for
reading Wittgenstein's remarkson general philosophy. For lack of a true
understandingof the matters involved, I shall employ concepts commonly
used in philosophy, by Wittgenstein and others, although I know how
superficial similar-sounding concepts are when applied to the subject
matter about which I have thought, e.g. sections 5-8 below.
Wittgenstein'sstartingpoint is this: he is not preparedto use the notions
of mathematical object and mathematical truth as tools in philosophy.
Actually he gives some arguments against them, but, as stated in 1.3a,
I do not find them convincing. To me the real objection to these notions
is that, at any rate as far as I know, there does not exist a single significant
development in philosophy 1 based on them; in fact, some uses of these
notions seem quite contentless such as the familiar 'explanation' of the
consistency of our mathematical results by saying that our results agree
because we deal with the same objects. As I see it, the position is similar
to that of the notions of the atom or absolute simultaneity at the time of
the Greeks: neither of them could be used for understandingthe world
at the stage of technical and conceptual development of that time. (I
chose the atom as an example of a notion with a future, and absolute
simultaneity as an example of a notion which was later discarded.) In
other words, the notion of a mathematicalobject is defective because one
has no clue for using it to provide satisfactoryanswersto the (philosophically
significant) questions which it should answer, but no case has been made
out that it cannot do so-rather like philosophy itself.
Now, granted that such ' metaphysical' notions as that of a mathematical
object are to be avoided in favour of an empiricist approach in the sense
of I.2d, it seems quite natural that Wittgenstein should be concerned with
the positions I.2a, i.2b, i.2c. Partly their attraction is due to wishful
1The contentof thisnotiondoesnot seemto lie hereat all,butin the conception
of set whichit suggests(cf. section2.2). Theinconsistency of the naivenotionof a
set is no morea defectin the conceptof a mathematical object,thanthe Greekcon-
ceptionof a starasa holein theskyis a defectin ourconceptionof a starasa hot gas.
it shouldbe notedthatWittgenstein
Incidentally, arguesagainsta notionof a mathe-
maticalobject(presumably:substance), but, at leastin places(p. 124, 35 or p. 96, 7I,
lines 5 and 4 from below) not againstthe objectivityof mathematics, especially
throughhis recognition of formnalfacts(p. I28, 5o).

thinking, but also there are valid, albeit inconclusive, reasonsin their favour.
I begin with the former.
As to I.2a, it is clearthat languageis something ' tangible ', not a ' hidden'
object; as to I.2b, proofs are recognisedspontaneously,like colour (cf. p. 96,
70 or p. I25, 36), in contrastto theorems which, when regardedas assertions
about mathematical objects, are inaccessible; as to i.2c, experiments are
something practicaland they tell us facts(p. 99, 76 or p. I7I, I4). Moreover,
from these points of view the problem of an ultimate justification for
mathematicalassertionsdoes not arise: in case I.2a, since there is no sense
in speaking of the truth of a rule anyway; in I.2b, since there is no sense
in speaking of the truth of an assertionbefore its meaning has been fixed,
and so, if the proof is needed to determine the meaning of a theorem,
then there can be no question of a justification for principles of proof;
and in I.2c, one is simply seeing what is happening and this is supposed to
be unproblematic.
Of course, these formulations are oversimplified, and the positions
I.2a-I.2c are not plausible just because it is obvious that there are real
problems connected with the justification of principles of proof. But
it is interesting to see directly where these positions go wrong. Wittgen-
stein's remarks on this will be briefly touched in 2.1-2.3. Also I shall
try to indicate roughly what is sound about these positions.
Note that 1.2a and 1.2b are more or less complementary because 1.2a
leaves open the exact role of proof in mathematics, while I.2b is mainly
concerned with this question. Position 1.2Cis contradictory to the others.
What is common to them is that, separately,they are in the direction of
an empiricist approach.
2.I. In favour of I.2a we can say that, whatever else a theorem may be,
it certainlyis also a rule of inference: e.g. if A is a theorem, A -B is taken to
imply B. Regarded as a reduction, I.2a is open to the objection of 1.3
above. Wittgenstein stresses (p. I84, 32) a more interesting point which
shows a generallimitation of crude empiricism: while he regards' believing
oneself to follow a rule' as an empirical notion, the notion of following
a rule correctly is not. In short, there is a non-empirical residue in the
notion of a rule of language. The same applies also to the formalist con-
ception of mathematics as a manipulation of symbols because the mathe-
matical content does not lie in the physical production of the symbols,
but in the formal fact that the symbols are produced in accordancewith the
given rule, or, as Wittgenstein prefers to put it (p. 81, 38), in our accepting
the sequence of symbols as an application of the rule. He goes on to say
' but once we go in for this businessof acceptance,then it need not be of a
geometricalnature', i.e. it need not be restrictedto constructionof sequences
of symbols according to syntactic rules. The point seems to me of im-
portance for foundations generally, but Wittgenstein does not develop it.
Position I.2a raisesthe question why proofs are needed since a rule of
language,as ordinarilyunderstood,is a matterof simple decision. Wittgen-
stein does not give a plain answer, but suggests (p. 77, 28) that the proof
tells us how to use the rule.
2.2. A parallel development to this suggestion is provided by 1.2b,
e.g. p. 144, 4: before the proof is given the concept is pliable. The doctrine
that the proof determines the meaning of the theorem, is familiar from
intuitionistwritings. As G6del has pointed out to me (but see also p. 93, 61)
the doctrine is supported at the level of computations where one considers
symbolic operations with numerals in contrast to assertionsabout numbers
considered as characteristicsof sets: '5 + 7 = 12', at this level, means
that this equation is the last of some sequence of equations obtained by
the applicationof certain rules, and the proof goes just the one step further
of exhibiting this sequence. But as soon as one regardsnumbersas charac-
teristics of sets one can meaningfully ask whether certain computational
rules are correct, and to this extent statementsabout numbershave meaning
independentof the rules of proof considered. Quite generally, it is simply
not true that proof is primary and theorem derived, that only the proof
determines the content of a theorem. In fact, Wittgenstein is wrong
in saying that generally we change our way of looking at a theorem during
the proof (p. 122, 30), but equally often we change our way of looking
at the proof as a result of restating the theorem; e.g. if we are accus-
tomed to the principle of proof that the totality of all subsets of a set is
itself a set, we may reject it when it is pointed out to us that it is only
valid for the notion of a combinatorial set and not, e.g. for the notion of
a set as a rule of construction. (I chose this example, instead, e.g. can-
cellation by zero, because in the present case a restatementof the theorem
is involved.)
2.2a. I believe that Wittgenstein's violent dislike of the consistency
problem is connected with the thesis that proofis the fundamentalconcept.
For, on the one hand it is difficult to understandhow it is that different
correct proofs do not lead to contradictoryresults,and that the calculations
of differentpeople agree. On the other hand there seems to be no approach
to this problem on an empiricist basis. Wittgenstein proceeds as follows.
He minimises the importance of consistency (p. Ios, 8I) by saying that he
could imagine people who would be proud of a contradiction: but why
should one attach more weight to Wittgenstein's imaginings than to the
fact that people are not ? He attributes(p. 122, 30) the agreementbetween
different people to a similarity of training, though presumably the same
could be said about the agreement between reports of the same physical
event by differentpeople; or (p. 13, 35) simply callsthe agreementinteresting,
obviously implying that one should recognise this as a necessarycondition
for mathematics(p. 164) and not ask for explanations.
The situationis quite unsatisfactory. We shall returnto a more detailed
discussion of consistency in section II.
2.2b. Godel's remark in section 2.2 is a particular case of a general
approachto the relationbetween proof and theorem,which hasbeen developed
by him. (The discussionbelow is a slight elaboration.)
The proof is not said to determinethe meaning, but to enter into the
meaning of a theorem as follows: the assertionA is interpretedas: A has
(actually) been proved, say by a particularindividual. On this interpreta-
tion, trivially A is false before a proof is given but of course not necessarily
absurd. The fact, that A is false, is not of mathematicalinterest, that A is
true is, but from this we can only conclude that therefore it always will be
true, not that it always was. Clearly this is not the common interpretation
of mathematicalassertions.
What has been said so far is of course clear. But significant resultsare
obtained if the interpretation is carried through thoroughly, for then a
theorembecomesan assertionaboutthe actualstructureof its ownproof. For this
one interpretsB -> C as: it has been proved that if B has been proved then
so has C, and similarly with the other logical connectives. (Absurdity is
used only if we have a restriction on proofs which excludes proofs of a
formula A, so that for each A we may assertA -+ A on the present inter-
pretation.) In propositional reasoning the following stipulation about the
individualwhose proofs are consideredmust be made: at each stage he keeps
his set of theorems closed under modusponens. Note that the interpretation
of the symbol ' -' is not circular, because the ' if ... then' in ' if B has
been proved then so has C' applies to propositions about a concretely
specified totality, namely the proofs actually constructedby the individual
at a given time, and so the truth functional interpretationis quite unprob-
lematic here. Note also that only a minimum of conditions is imposed on
the proof proceduresemployed by the individual considered.
For more sophisticated kinds of reasoning, where as, e.g. in number
theory substitutionof arbitrarynumeralsis permitted, it is unlikely that the
necessaryclosure conditions on the set of theorems can actually be realised,
because the set would be infinite. However it seems plausible that the
interpretationappliesif' B has been proved 'is replacedby' B can be proved
from the theorems already constructed by means of (suitably chosen)
decidable rules' so that the logical connectives in the interpretationremain
unproblematic. An exact study of this would seem to be desirable.
To repeat: we have here an interpretationof (a certain class of) mathe-
maticalassertionsaccordingto which the latterare' about' empiricallygiven
sets of proofs satisfying certain closure conditions. It is not the only, or
even most natural interpretation. No doubt the phrase 'the concept is
pliable before the proof is given ' is elastic enough; but it is difficult to say
whether it will stretch to cover the present section.


2.3. Wittgenstein does not support position I.2c at all (p. 124, 35 or
p. 173, line 5 from bottom). His criticismof I.2c leadsto a generalcriticism
of naive empiricism: one needs concepts to tell us what are facts and mathe-
maticsprovides them and handlesthem. Becauseof the generalimplications
of this observation I do not feel competent to discuss it in detail, nor do
I know how closely it is connected with the familiar claim that concepts
are needed in the description of nature. But Wittgenstein's presentation
of this view seems specially vivid, particularly in his discussion of the
difference between measurement1 and experiment (p. 98, 74): the same
physical acts constitute in one case a measurement, in the other an
2.3a. The fact just mentioned immediately raisesthe question wherein
this difference lies. It would be wholly barren to reply that it lies in the
intention of the agent and that it is to be discoveredby asking him whether
he is making an experiment or a measurement. Wittgenstein wishes to
remove the distinction from the sphere of psychology by saying that
whether an act is a measurementor an experiment dependson the language
game of which it is a part. It is not at all clear to me that this nice word
'language game' really clarifies the traditional term' meaning ', and does
not merely replaceit.
There seems to be something psychological in the distinctionconsidered,
because, with our present experience of machines, it does not seem possible
to say significantly of a machine that it is making a measurement or an
experiment: instead, we use it for such a purpose (cf. p. 133, 2: does a
calculating machine calculate?).
Wittgenstein employs severalother notions with a similarpsychological
flavourin his attemptsto characterise(certainaspectsof) proofs, e.g. p. 14, 39:
to impress a procedure upon someone; p. 18, 53: to use something as
a picture; p. 72, 14: to use it as a paradigm; p. 45, 153: to take in a structure
at a glance, etc.
2.4. This completes a very rough review of Wittgenstein's remarkson
general philosophy. My impression is that he has not put forward a
coherent framework within which one can significantly discuss the nature
of mathematics. We are left with a shambles, although the remarks
1 He alsotalksaboutthedifference betweencalculation andexperiment (p.95, 69).
The discussion shouldbe elucidated;first,it would be more reasonable to confine
attentionto the difference
betweencalculating andexperimenting since
in mathematics
otherwisethe most obvious differences of subjectmatterobscurethe differences
issue; second,Wittgensteinalso comparescalculatingwith measuringand with
settingupmeansof measurement.Thelatteris atleastasproblematical ascalculating:
consider,e.g. the theoreticalproblemsinvolvedin settingup a unit of time which,
contraryto popularmisconceptions, is not done by settingup some conventional
of and
piece apparatus defining it to be the measureof time.
contain some sound criticisms of the naive empiricist approach in the
sense of I.2d.
The remainderof the review, except for a brief digressionin section 3.3,
is concerned with the foundations of mathematicsin the sense of section i.

3 Wittgenstein's GeneralConclusions
I consider the conclusions which I have attributed to Wittgenstein
in I.3b, confining myself mainly to points of specifically mathematical
interest. I do not accept his conclusions since I do not think that they are
fruitful for further research. The points raised in the present section and
the discussion of 8.4 below seem to me to show that the value of the book
doesnot lie in a new point of view, but in penetratingobservationsand questions
on a limitedsubjectmatter.
3.I. Even though the aims of the traditionalschools of philosophy in
their crude form are unattainable,I do not see why these aims should not
be modified in the light of criticism, and then pursued. Thus, though
the requirementsof strict empiricism cannot be satisfied,a leaning towards
it seems fruitful. It seems to me that Lorenzen'soperative logic constitutes
an interesting formulation of the idea that theorems are rules of language:
Lorenzen, of course, does not try to reduce the act of following a rule
(correctly) to empiricist terms, but starts with the fact (or: idealisation)
that we do follow rules. And notwithstanding the criticisms of 2.2a and
2.2b, we can develop a mathematicsbased on the primitive concept of proof
or even constructive proof, as the intuitionists have done (6): we ignore
the problem of how we come to recognise a proof and start from the fact
(or: idealisation)that we do. Only, as statedin 2.I, it is not likely that one
approach will turn out to be 'more unique' than the other (cf. also 8.3b).
3.2. As far as mathematicalfoundations are concerned, it is certainly
true that if mathematicalconcepts are used in foundations, they are liable
to raise the same type of problem as they are supposed to answer: we are
left with elucidations rather than explanations (see Godel on consistency
proofs, impredicativity of the notion of intuitionistic proof, and of a set:
to mention difficulties met by the three most prominent mathematical
approaches to the foundations of mathematics). But to quote out of
context (p. 174, I6): don't demand too much and have no fear of your
problems dissolving into nothing. In fact, mathematical logic has done
far more to get an overall view of mathematics, to help us find our way
about (p. Io4, 80), than any other single discipline: it provided concepts
necessary for the description of mathematics, just as, according to
Wittgenstein, mathematicsprovides the conceptsnecessaryin the description
of nature.
Wittgenstein'sviews on mathematicallogic are not worth much because
he knew very little and what he knew was confined to the Frege-Russell
line of goods.l But it is true that the methods of mathematical logic
have not been appliedsuccessfullyto the subjectof elementarycomputations
(7.I), and this is precisely the subject which interestedhim most.
3.3. As to Wittgenstein's conception of philosophy, there are two
questions: the rejection of other conceptions and the promise of his own,
the clarificationof the grammar of mathematics. He does not say exactly
wherein this consists,but it is evidently to do with applicationsand intellectual
institutions (e.g. p. 176, I8 last paragraph,or p. 173, paragraph8). The
concepts used in his description of our mathematical activity are those
of 2.3a. Now, I see no objection to them on formal grounds, and I can
believe that they afford a better framework than either a purely empiricist
(behaviourist) or a purely introspective analysis. But these notions and
the whole programme of clarifying the grammar remind me of the ' soft 2
options' at school: human geography (not the mineral composition of
mountains, but their effect on history) or economic chemistry (not the
atomic structure of the chemical elements, but their uses in society). It
is all sensible and interesting, not hackneyed (p. 170), but often bypasses
the problems which later turn out to be most fruitful. But even if this
conception turns out to be useful, there is no clear reason for rejecting
the others, no more than that human geography should exclude scientific
geology. There are such traditional problems as the genesis of our
mathematical concepts, the justification of proofs, i.e. what makes them
correct ratherthan what makes them interesting,which are the fundamental
concepts and which derived: we need a conceptual apparatusto formulate
these questionsin a satisfactoryway, and we do not have such an apparatus.
But it seems unlikely that the concepts favoured by Wittgenstein will
provide it. It is by no means clear that these questionsare ripe for a precise
formulation, any more than the general (and natural) questions of present
day mathematicswere ripe for a formulation at the time of the Greeks.

There is another, less austere conception of the philosophy of mathe-
matics, which Wittgenstein ignores too. Since this conception, it seems
to me, underliesmost of current work in mathematicallogic, he implicitly
rejects it by rejecting mathematical logic. As mathematics has grown,
a variety of different methods of proof, definitions, theorems have
1Thisisnot atalltypicalof thesubject. However,I amtoldthatmanyprofessional
philosophersare similarlyuneducatedand are, therefore,likely to have similarly
2 This of philosophyis supportedby Wittgenstein's
impression generalcomments
on his conceptionof philosophy:perhapsone shouldnot pay too muchattentionto
them sincesome passagesin the book (cf. Sections7 and 8 below) involve'hard
accumulated. By the light of nature we see differences,groupings within
one branch, and similarities between different branches of mathematics.
One may see one aim of a philosophy of mathematics in getting a clear
understandingof these connections, and there is no reason in advance why
this should be done only by reference to ' applications', and not, e.g. by
mathematical properties, by mathematical characterisations. From this
point of view it is a contribution to the philosophy of mathematicsif a
new aspect of the methods of mathematicshas been noticed, such as, e.g.
Wittgenstein's own observations discussed in sections 7 and 8 below;
here there is no one fundamentalproblem. I regardthe' rival' philosophies
of mathematics in this light: not as contradictory in substance, but as
emphasising different aspects of mathematics (cf. writings of Bernays
quoted below).
4.I. It should be observed that the originatorsof the rival philosophies
took a differentview: they insistedon rejectingthose aspectsof mathematics
which they did not consider themselves; like a woman who fears one
would not be interested in her if one remembered that others existed
besides her. Of course, from the point of view of a Lebensphilosophie
these rival philosophies are contradictory because they regard different
aspectsof mathematicsas specially important.

5 Background(Set Theory)
The historical background to Wittgenstein's remarks consists of
two parts. First there is the logicistic reduction of mathematics to logic
and abstract set theory: many of Wittgenstein's remarks are a reaction
against this. Second, there are the so-called constructive tendencies which
are also a reaction to the logicistic approach or, at least, are in a different
direction. We describe the reduction to set theory first, and then some
brands of constructivism in order to compare Wittgenstein's views with
Abstract set theory provides the most famous of all foundations of
mathematics. The remarkablefact is this: each known branch of mathe-
matics has a model in abstractset theory, and frequently, a most natural
model. Thus, e.g. the question 'what is a number' to which it is hard to
give a naturalmeaning, gets the answer: an element of the set which is the
intersection of all inductive sets. Similarly, the corresponding questions
for other mathematicalconcepts are answered in this uniform way. It is
fair to say that this programme of regarding our mathematics from this
point of view of set theory has been carried out in far more detail than,
e.g. the programme of describing the physical world as assemblages of
fundamental particles. (The common feature of these programmes is
that they reduce the numberof 'primitives '.) In particular,the develop-
ment of arithmetic within set theory has not only helped us to understand
arithmetic better, but has had important repercussionson the study of set
theory and logic generally, e.g. it permits the application of GSdel's
incompletenesstheorem to systems of set theory, and related results.
5.I. The interest of the discovery just described cannot be doubted.
But it is not so clear that it satisfiesthe philosopher who seeks a ' simpler'
foundation, who looks for the fundamental concepts in mathematics and
wants to build up derived ones. Those philosophers who see the content
of a scientific statement in the observationalverification will deny that the
fundamentalparticlesare simpler than the physical objects of our experience,
but they cannot deny that at least they are smaller. There is no obvious
order in which abstractsets precede numbers, as the fundamentalparticles
precede objects of our immediate experience in size. And, as e.g. Poincare
pointed out with great lucidity, the reduction of arithmetic to set theory
itself requires the processes of arithmetic. If the notion of number pre-
supposes the concept of a finite set, even then, as Lorenzen has observed,1
this does not mean that one has to consider arbitrarysets first and then
restrict them to fiite ones. In other words, in this searchfor foundations,
for notions with a more elementary content, one may wish to select parts
of mathematics, or, in particular, parts of set theory. Wittgenstein
emphasisesstrongly the mathematicalsignificance of such selections.
5.2. Another respect in which the set theoretic foundations fail, is
in characterisingthe constructive aspects of mathematics which Berays
calls, epigrammatically, a mathematics of doing (cf. also p. 118, I5) in
contrast to a mathematics of being, or, more formally, an idealisation of
process as against an idealisation of what is the case. Neither of these
conceptions can be expected to be fully comprehended by the other;
although thereareinterestingformal relationsbetween them. It is interesting
to note that there is not only a constructivistcritique of so-called classical
(' platonistic') mathematics, but also a converse. In fact, many mathe-
maticiansare almost proud to declarethat they don't understandintuitionism
(or the other constructive tendencies); they ask: how do you define
constructive proof? and do not really expect an answer; rightly as long
as they presuppose a definition in set theoretical terms. Their complaint
about the vagueness (meaninglessness)of the notion of constructive proof
is on a par with the intuitionist complaint about the meaninglessnessof
the notion of arbitraryfunctions: how do you specify them, since they are
supposed to be non-enumerable? Yet without giving a list of either
arbitrary sets or of all constructive proofs, Zermelo laid down properties
of the former notion in his set theory and Heyting of the latter in his axiom
systemsfor intuitionisticlogic. From now on we shallbe mainly concerned
with the constructiveside and we discussit on its merits without attempting
to reduce it to set theoretical terms.
1Math, Ann., 195 , 123, 331-338

6 Background(Constructivity)
It is the custom to lump together all constructive tendencies under the
heading of intuitionism. To get a little more orientationwe shall distinguish
between intuitionism proper as developed by Brouwer and Heyting, and
finitism. There is an even narrowerconception of constructivemathematics,
namely strictfinitism, a notion described by Bernays in ' Sur le platonisme
dans les mathematiques'.1 Wittgenstein'sviews seem relatedand favourable
to intuitionism, probably mainly because of common features such as the
objection to the idea of a mathematical object, the priority attached to
proofs over theorems (cf. 2.2), and the use of Brouwer's household example
of the decimal expansion of r (p. I38, 9 or p. 144, 19, or p. I47, 27). But
a closer look shows that this similarityis superficial,and that Wittgenstein's
views on mathematics are near those of strict finitism; or, perhaps one
should say, he concentrateson the strictly finitist aspects of mathematics.
To justify this assertionit is necessaryto describe some differencesbetween
these three constructivist tendencies. (Strict finitism will be considered in
the next section.)
6.I. First, we describe differences on a general (epistemological)
level. Hilbert-Bernays2 states that intuitionism permits the use of general
logical considerations in addition to the combinatorial facts with which
fmitist mathematics is concerned. Intuitionism deals with 'mental con-
structions' while a finitist piece of mathematics is to be regarded as a
Gedanken experiment (descriptionof an experiment) with concreteobjects 3
which are thought of as reproducible,are to be recognisable,and surveyable,
i.e. thought of as built up of discretepartswhose structurecan be surveyed.4
Intuitionism includes finitism because a picture of a concrete object can be
used in a mental construction,as this word is employed by the intuitionists.
But it goes beyond finitism because it makes statements concerning all
possible constructions,which certainly do not constitute a concrete totality.
These, and similar, general differences become apparent in the typical
features of the notion of intuitionist as opposed to fmitist proof: a false
propositionimplies anything; undecidedpropositions,and even implications
between such propositions, may be used as premissesin implications,i.e. one
makes assertionswhich involve an hypothetical proof, namely a proof of
the premise, though the totality of all proofs is not concretely specified
(it is regarded as an accident that in most proofs of implications A - B
the details of the proof of A are not used in the proof of B, as, e.g. in
- B to the
[A & (A -> B)] -- B where one need merely attach the proof of A
1Enseignement mathematique, 1935,34, 52-69
2 derMathematik,1934 I, 43 3 Ibid, 20, line 8 from foot.
Grundlagen p.
Ibid, p. 21, lines 21-23, where Bernaysuses 'iiberblickbar' instead of Wittgen-
stein's'iibersehbar ', e.g. p. 65, i, withits ambiguityof' overlook'and'look over'.
proof of A in order to get a proof of B, though, in fact, Brouwer's proof
of the fan theorem is the only known example of the contrary case); as
a result it is not clear what 'construction' constitutes the content of such
an implication: this applies in particularto the double negations of which
intuitionist writings are full.
6.Ia. Granted that features of this kind are typical of the difference
between finitist and intuitionist mathematics,it is clearthat it is unprofitable
to compare Wittgenstein's views and intuitionism. For, in his simple
computationalexampleswe are dealing with strictlycombinatorialprocesses,
and the typically intuitionist concepts do not apply: he leaves off before
intuitionism starts.
6.2. Finitist mathematics does not use the general notion of a con-
structive proof at all, in fact it might be said to avoid logicalinferences
(which involve an impredicative concept of proof) because it is restricted
to purely combinatorial operations. In particular,the logical connectives
have a purely combinatoralcharactersince they are appliedonly to decidable
formulae and so the truth functional interpretation(truth table method) is
not problematic. Universal quantifiers are not used at all except in so
far as they can be replaced by free variables, e.g. not in the premiss of an
implication. Existential quantifiersare used as shorthandfor a (construc-
tive) function or functional: if they occur in a premiss,e.g. (Ex) A (x) -> B,
they are interpretedas A (n) -> B, when n is a free variablewhich does not
occur in A (x) nor in B. Iteratedimplications are not used at all. These
restrictionsall follow more or less cogently from the general conception
of a mathematics about concretely presented objects.
6.2a. The reasonwhy thereis suchgeneralconfusionabout the difference
between finitist and intuitionist proofs is simply this: one very rarely
uses all that intuitionismwould allow, e.g. up to the presentwe do not know,
for A known to be recursive,a single intuitionistproof of N (x) A (x) where
we cannot specify an n such that -, A (n) (though the general conception
of an intuitionist proof makes it plausible that there are such A); again
(x) A (x) -(y) B (y) can always be sharpened in known cases to
A [f(n)] - B (n) where f (n) is a specified (constructive)function. Iterated
implications are extremely rare in mathematicsanyway.
6.3. In short, all the mathematics which Wittgenstein considers clear
(not, e.g. the completeness of the set of real numbers) fits comfortably
within the framework of finitist mathematics, and so, as stated in 6.ia, it
is futile to compare his views with intuitionism. In fact it will turn out
that an even narrower aspect of mathematicsis considered by him.

7 Strictfinitism
Finitismis, of course, an idealisationtoo, i.e. it ignores certaindifferences
and distinctions based upon them. In particular,it does not distinguish
between constructions which consist of a finite number of steps and those
which can actually be carriedout, or between configurationswhich consist
of a fiite number of discrete parts and those which can actually be kept
in mind (or surveyed). In fact within any given degree of sophistication
of proofs a classification according to the degree of complexity is most
natural. Wittgenstein stresses (p. 65, 2) the further point that explicit
definitions and new notations may convert a piece of mathematics which
is not strictly finitist into one.
7.I. No rigorous work has been done on this subject,partly, no doubt,
because the current methods of mathematical logic do not seem to lend
themselves to it. Perhaps the study of fiite computing machines or the
human learningprocess will make the problems which arisehere practically
pressing. But also, so far, this concept of finitist proof in the strict sense
has not been applied to questionswhich interestlogicians such as the general
notion of' equivalence of proofs ' or ' content of proofs '. It seems to me
that Wittgenstein gives some very interestinghints in this connection which
will be describedin the next section.
7.2. To avoid misunderstanding: I myself have not worked on strict
finitism, and do not know what direction researchon it might take. But
Bernays and Wittgenstein have certainly drawn attention to a new area
of researchin foundations. Those logicians and philosophers whose taste
leads them to work in developed fields where others have created concepts
on which they can model their own, will certainly not be attracted to
strictfinitism at the presentstage; just as they would not have been attracted
to intuitionism before Heyting analysed its formal structure and Tarski
importantaspectsof its interpretation. Hao Wang continues this discussion
in a forthcoming article in Dialectica; in particularWittgenstein's concern
(para.2.2) with the relationbetween proof and theorem is seen in a new light
if one broadens the notion of strict finitism to that which one can actually
grasp; for, afterone has gone through a proof one actuallyhandlesa theorem
differentlyfrom before. The suggestion is undoubtedly in the right direc-
8 Equivalenceof Proofs
I shall discuss Wittgenstein's views by reference to his criticism of the
reduction of arithmetic to logic and to some remarks of his on non-
constructive existence proofs in analysis. It seems to me that what he
has to say about the reduction of arithmetic to logic is not concerned with
any peculiarities of the branches of mathematics considered, but applies
generally to proof theoreticalreductionsor translations,either mapping of
proofs of one kind into proofs of another, or theorems (provableformulae)
of one system into theorems of another.
8.I. Wittgenstein's first point concerning the reduction of numerical
arithmetic to logic with identity is this: we do not really have a reduction
here because, by the methods of logic alone, we could not decide whether
a particularformula of logic correspondsto some given formula of numerical
arithmetic. Also there would always be the question of whether a rule has
been correctly applied(p. 89, 53, or p. i9, 56).
8.Ia. This point seems wholly acceptable, and, what is more, quite
familiar: it concerns the metamathematicalmethods used for investigating
relations between two systems. We do not speak of a ' reduction ' unless
the metamathematicalmethods are weaker in some suitable sense or, at
least,more evident than the methods studied. For instance,in his reduction
of formalised classical arithmetic to intuitionistic arithmetic, Godel was
careful to use finitist methods of proof. Again, if a system is decidable,
i.e. if there is an effective method of associating with every formula of
the system one of the formulae o = o, o = i (o = o with provable ones,
o = i with the others), we do not generally speak of a 'reduction' of
the system to arithmetic modulo 2: for, in general, the method used for
constructing this translation goes far beyond arithmetic modulo 2. In
the colourlesslanguage of professionallogicians one repliesto Wittgenstein's
question how we know that the rule (of translation)has been correctly
applied by saying: the whole reduction must be consideredrelative to the
methods of proof used in the metamathematical argument. And one
would agree with him that the metamathematicsrequiredfor a translation
of arithmetic into logic requires some arithmetical concepts. However
one would remember that without being a reduction such a translation
can be of centralimportance (cf. end of section 5).
8.Ib. Wittgenstein's next point is much more positive. Instead of
just saying that the metamathematical methods used in the translation
include the methods studied, he looks for appropriate weaker methods,
and observes, e.g. that the reduction of the decimal notation for numerals
to the stroke notation (p. 66, 3) cannot be done by strictly finitist methods.
He thereby uses the notion of strictfinitism for making a naturaldistinction,
which is not made customarily.
8.2. Wittgenstein repeatedly raises the question of characterisingthe
equivalenceof proofs in contrastto equivalenceof results(p. 69, 8; p. 69, 9;
p. 66, 3 last paragraph). This is a somewhat elusive notion, a little like
Heyting's notion of the completeness of a calculus with respect to proofs
and not only with respectto results,1but in particularcasesit is clearenough.
For instance, Shoenfield2 showed how to replace the induction schema
in the elementary quantifier-free arithmetic of addition by means of a
finite number of axioms, including a + b = b + a, without altering the
set of theorems. Now, it is intuitively clearthat the proofofa + b = b + a

1 Cf. his bookIntuitionism.

An Introduction,
p. 102.
Logic,I957, 22, II2
2Journalof Symbolic

by induction does not have an 'equivalent' counterpart in the finitely
axiomatised system.
8.2a. Wittgenstein does not succeed in characterisingthis notion of
equivalence or in comparing proofs. He recognises(p. 93, 60) that under
too strict a criterion of equivalencea proof will be equivalent only to itself:
he does not see any objection to this, and does not attempt to fmd fruitful
criteria. But, in my opinion, he raisesan interestingproblem here.
8.3. He does attempt to find a characterisationof a very general
sort by basing a comparison of proofs on the application,2or, as he puts
it (p. 155, 46), on what I can do with it. I believe that at a certain level
this is a useful approach,but its limitationsare more interesting.
8.3a. Wittgenstein makes the remarkin connection with non-construc-
tive existence proofs in which I myself have been specially interested.
Supposewe have a proof of(Ex)A(x) or (Ex)(y)B(x, y) where we think of the
variables as ranging over natural numbers. The first thing that I may
expect to 'do' with the proof of such a formula is to read off from it
instructionsfor calculating an n such that A(n) holds. (With the ordinary
methods of proof this can be done if A is recursive.) In general I cannot
'do ' this in the second case, e.g. if we have a proof (naturallyby reductio
ad absurdum)of -(x)(Ey) ,B (x, y). Such a proof would generally
proceed as follows: suppose (x)(Ey) B (x, y), then for a certain function

Y(x), (x) B [x, Y (x)]; the proof (in general) shows , (x) B [x, Y (x)]
by constructing explicitly an xy (depending on Y) such that
B [xy, Y (xy)]. (I)
This formula, with its construction of (the functional) xy in terms of Y,
may be said to tell us what we can ' do ' with the non-constructiveexistence
I do not think that this analysis is at all artificial: but it certainly pre-
supposes that we are looking for something of this sort, i.e. that we wish
to express 'what we can do with the non-constructive proof' in terms
of some quantifier-free(possibly finitist) assertionlike (i) above. Perhaps
l An incidentalobservation:I have sometimesfelt that Wittgenstein's violent
dislikeof the notionof mathematical truthis connectedwith comparisons of proofs.
He couldsee thatthe comparisonof proofswas informative,and he didn'thave a
snappyanswerto the objectionsometimesmadeby mathematicians: But all we want
to knowis whetherthe theoremis true. Theansweris: If you thinkaboutwhatyou
aresayingyou will seethatyou arewrong.
2 Thereseemsto be a conflictwith
p. 157, 52,wherehe saysthatit is uselessin the
philosophy of mathematics to reformulate proofs: one would have thoughtthat
thismightexhibitthe application especiallyclearly.
3All this involvesa restatementof the theoremand a consequentreformulation
of the proofwithout,as one says,changingthe ideaof the proof: cf. the preceding
it is particularly easy to say what we can 'do' with a non-constructive
existence proof because the matter of constructivity is at issue, and so a
complete elimination of the non-constructive use of the quantifier is all
we want, and we get it. The situationappearseven simplerpost hocbecause
also from a ' non-constructive' classicalpoint of view, (I) is better than
(Ex) (y) B (x, y) in the following sense: (Ex)(y)B(x, y) follows from
B [xy, Y (xy)] with the variable Y by pure (classical)logic, but not the
converse: graphically,(I) is more informative than (Ex)(y)B (x, y).
8.3b. But it seems to me that here we have a very special case in the
foundations of mathematics, because the requirements on a satisfactory
solution are pretty clear: as we have said above, the adjective 'non-
constructive' itself suggests what we should aim for. And in any case,
what we can 'do' with the non-constructive proof is more informative
than the non-constructive theorem.
But in the more fundamental problems of the foundations of mathe-
matics, the question' what can I do with it' does not seem to help. Suppose
I have a finitist and a non-finitist proof of a universal formula (x)A(x):
What can I 'do' with the former which I cannot do with the latter ?
In both cases, for each numeral n (errors excepted) we shall have A(n).
Incidentally,comparison between the intuitionist proof of the fan theorem
and Konig's proof of the corresponding theorem in classicalmathematics
raisesthe same question:1 what can I ' do ' with one, what with the other ?
Nothing like the question of 'estimates' for existential quantifiers,which
is central in the cases of 8.3a, is relevant here. What one is left with is
simply this: if one startswith the classical conception Brouwer's proof
is simply not valid becausehe makesan unjustifiedrestrictionon the methods
of proof of the hypothesis which in any case is not relevant because one
only wishes to assume its truth, and if one startswith the intuitionistic
conception Konig's proof is not valid because he employs a (provably)
non-constructive least number operator. I do not see any 'practical
purpose' or considerations of 'usefulness' which could decide between
the two proofs.
8.4. It is my impression that the emphasis on 'application' or 'on
what we can do with it' aims at unifying our point of view: we are to
look at two conceptions like the classical and intuitionist conception of
mathematics, and find a place for each from our point of view, namely:
according to their applications. Mathematicianssometimes pretend to a
similar criterion of judgment, namely: 'mathematical fruitfulness'.
Everybody knows that in subtle cases the criterion of fruitfulness usually
does not apply because people differ in just these cases in what they find
1 The restof with the proofsof Brouwer's
para.8. 3b presupposesacquaintance
fantheorem,e.g. in Heyting'sbookcitedin section8.2 above,andof the Unendlich-

interesting. From 8.3b it appearsthat in subtle cases Wittgenstein's notion

of application is no better. The aim is not achieved, and this fact seems
to support the conclusion of section 3 above.

9 HigherMathematics
The remainderof this review dealswith isolatedtopics which arediscussed
at length in the book. I make no attempt to relate them to a general
point of view. Some of them are so absurd that they seem due to very
general misconceptionsand not just carelessness(cf. p. 55, lines ii and I2).
It might be interesting to trace such connections.
Wittgenstein says (p. 58, 6) that it was the diagonal argument which
gave sense to the assertionthat the set of all sequences(of naturalnumbers)
is not enumerable. The definition is: a set of sequencesa(I), . .. a(m), .
is enumerable if there is a double sequence s(n, I),. . . s(n, m) . . ., n = i, 2,
. . . with the following property: for each sequence of the set, there is
an na such that a(I),... is identical with s(na, I), . ., i.e. for all
m, a(m) s(na, m).
= And the diagonal argument states, that the set of all
sequences is not enumerable because (i) if s(n,m) is a double sequence,
then s(n,n)+ I is also a sequence and so (ii) any proposed enumeration
s(n,m) fails to include one sequence, namely s(n,n) + I. One could only
wish that all one's assertionshad as much sense as the assertionof the non-
enumerabilityof the set of all sequencesbefore its proof !
9.I. What is wrong here? Well, after all there was a paradox,
Skolem's paradox,which puzzled people. The mistake is to think that the
diagonal argument applies only to the set of all sequences: given any set of
simple and double sequences satisfying (i), the non-enumerability of these
simple sequences by a double sequence of the set is established. In other
words we may expect quite ' small ' models of a set theory which satisfy the
nonenumerabilitycondition, since not only the sequencesbut also the means
of enumeration of these sequences are restricted in such a model. But
this does not at all mean that the set of all sequencesis ill defined: the fact
remainsthis set has the property (i).


Wittgenstein criticises G6del's first incompleteness theorem; or, at

least, the part which statesthat if a suitablesystem of arithmeticis consistent
then there is a true formula of the form (n)A(n) which is not provable in
the system; the formula is one with number q which states: for every n,
n is not the number of a proof of the formula with number q, i.e. a proof
of itself. The argumentsare wild, including such points as an inconsistency
wouldn't matter (p. 5I, II), or how do we know that this is the correct
translation of the arithmetic formula (n)A(n) (p. 5S, io), or what does it
mean to suppose that a formula is provable (p. I77, bottom). Even if
L I53
an inconsistency didn't 'matter', one cannot hope to discuss significantly
on this basis a result which explicitly supposes consistency of the system.
Why does he think that the elaborate details of G6del's paper are needed ?
Just because G6del has to show that on the assumption of consistency
the proposed translationis correct. And finally, one of the major purposes
of considering formal systems (and it is formal systems which G6del
considers) is that a clear combinatorial (geometric) meaning is given to a
formula being provable.
IO.I. Just as with the diagonal argument, nothing is wronghere, but
perhapsthe following explanationsare appropriate.
First of all, logicians are quite aware of the choices open in translating
a syntactic assertion in English into arithmetic form; in fact, Rosser's
variant of Godel's proof dependsjust on this fact. For the first undecid-
ability theorem all that is needed of a translation of the proof predicate
(mis - the number of- a proof of- the formula with number n) is this:
there should be an expression (x, y) in the system such that 9 (o(m),o(n))
is provable (refutable) in the system for the numerals o(m)and o(n) just in
case m is (not) a proof of n. And this is ensuredby consistencyand the other
conditions imposed on the system. For a significant formulation of the
second undecidability theorem the expression 9 has to be so chosen that
one can 'see' that it possesses certain properties of the proof predicate;
i.e. one must be able to prove formally in the system certain implications
involving 9. This was first analysed by Hilbert-Berays and recently
Feferman has obtained interesting further results. This work shows what
a workmanlike approach to such a matter as an ambiguity in translation
should be: it is not regarded as an inherent defect, but it is analysed till
one sees what is actually needed in a particularcontext.
The beauty of G6del's own formulation is that his resultcan be separated
from the question of truth in arithmetic. He has found a formula (x)A(x),
A primitive recursive, which is formally undecidable in the given system
y' if y9 is consistent. Now, given this syntactic result one argues: since
any closed proposition is true or false, either (x)A(x) or -(x)A(x) is true,
and so there is a true proposition which cannot be proved in ' (on the
intended interpretationof 9'). One sees that all one needs of the concept
of truth is that either a or -,. Actually, our notion of truth is clear
enough argue: (x)A(x) is true. For if it were false for the numeral o(n),
then A A(o(n)) would be provable Y' (provided all recursive predicates
can be computed in Y) and so --(x)A(x) would be provable.
To me Godel's results do not at all suggest that our intuitive notion
of an integer is defective: I can't believe that anyone ever had an intuition
that there was a recursive decision method for arithmetic, even if, like
Hilbert, he wanted one. It is not a death blow to the axiomatic approach
since we now consider partial instead of complete axiomatisations. Nor

necessarily to Hilbert's consistency problem: one has to examine the

methods employed in the consistency proof on their merits. In fact, what
Godel shows is that the methods employed in a consistency proof of a
system of arithmeticcannot be more evident than the methods formalisedin
the system, simply by virtue of being more restrictive. However, just
because of this Godel's resultsdid destroy Hilbert'saim of getting rid of all
problems of foundations once and for all. To me, the most striking fact is
this: while nobody has ever been troubled becausethe particularsentenceof
arithmeticis undecidable,so to speakbecausethesystemsareopen,G6del's own
principle for deciding such sentences shows that they are artificiallyopen:
his principle is: if . is provable in the system then S. This principle
can be formulated in each of the usual systems of arithmetic, and yet it
extends the system considered.


Wittgenstein's criticism of the consistency problem ranges from a

proposal to use the double negation as an enforced negation (p. 53, I8)
(when -A and ,~,A would not be contradictory),to the proposal of not
drawing conclusions from a contradiction (p. I69, I2) (as described, e.g. in
Ackermann'ssystem of strict implication,1 where the consistency problem
is not relevant),to modificationsin our argumentsafterwe reacha contradic-
tion (which is done every day, both as a correction of errors, oversights
in definitions, etc.) In fact the consistency problem as conceived by
Hilbert had a perfectly specific point: if one can prove, by limited (' under-
stood ') methods, the consistency of a system S, then if a universalrecursive
formula can be proved in S, then the same formula can be proved by the
limited methods. Since he considered more elaborateformulae as 'ideal'
elements, with no hope of assigning a clear constructive meaning to them,2
this was the most he could expect from foundations of arithmetic. In
addition, it turned out that consistencyproofs gave a great deal of additional
II.I. Here, for once, Wittgenstein also makes a justified objection
(p. I30, 56) among all the wild shots which miss the mark: the one-
sidednessof the consistency problem. From the consistency we can draw
some conclusions (sections Io, II), perhaps more than one would expect.
Yet, as G6del has shown there are formally consistentsystems of arithmetic,
which are co-inconsistent,i.e. (Ex)A(x) can be proved but for each numeral
o, i, . . ., A(o), A(I), . . . can be refuted. This had obviously not been
suspected. And even some of the results of the Hilbert school are more
Journal of Symbolic Logic, I956, 2I, 113-128.
Thoughthishasbeendoneby Herbrand

informatively described, e.g. as extended E-theorems than as mere con-

sistency results.
11.2. It is true that some popular reasonsfor the consistency problem
are unacceptable. If, e.g. one's aim is to save 'our mathematics', but if,
like Hilbert, one regards only universal formulae as significant and others
as auxiliary (ideal) one has not saved anything because these formulae
can be proved by the methods employed in the consistency proof itself.
If one is interested in scientific applications, consistency is certainly not
enough, the system must be correct for the intended application, and in
this case consistency will be a by-product. (Wittgenstein says, p. I04, 8o,
that consistency will be a by-product if one aims at a useful application:
the quantum physicists wish it were.) And indeed an inconsistency is
not shattering. For, if one thinks of mathematicsas a body of rules and
finds an inconsistency one modifies their statement: Cantor's proofs still
stand although they can be embedded in Frege'sinconsistentsystem. And
if one thinks of mathematics as concerned with mathematical objects,
the progress of science shows how our basic conceptions (cf. page I38, n.)
may turn out to be inconsistent with experience, yet many observations
made previously still stand, and only those whose interpretationis strongly
tied to the particularconception, are discarded.
Finally, as is often stressedby the physicists, if mathematics is used as
a handmaidenof the sciences, an inconsistency of the rules obtained by an
unintended application, even if this had not been excluded explicitly in
advance, may be quite acceptable; once, a mathematicianderived a con-
tradictionfrom the definition of a function introducedby a famous physicist,
upon which the latter commented: Did I make a mess of my function ?
In any casethereareambiguitiesand uncertaintiesin the physicalassumptions,
so why not put up with similar faults in the mathematicalmanipulation?
In fact, as Wittgenstein observed explicitly (p. I89) one could do physics
without distinguishing between mathematical and physical facts at all.
In other words, we have the interesting fact that something to which our
conception of mathematicsdoes not apply, can also be used as a handmaiden
of the sciences. But this fact does not invalidate our conception of
mathematicswhich is more exacting than that just described.
When all this is recognised, the mathematical problem of consistency
still stands, and is fruitful: proofs of consistency and, more generally,
of independenceyield, perhaps,a better control over a calculusthan anything
else. (In one place, Wittgenstein seems to agree with this: p. I06, lines
8, 7 from below). Also, the separationbetween mathematicaland physical
facts, even if artificialin places, has its value in the manipulationof physical
theories, particularlywhen a modification of the theory is required. Of
course, when we speak of the consistencyof rules, we make a mathematical
assertion,and ignore certainepistemologicalproblems,such as the one which
Wittgenstein stressesparticularly: how do we know that the rules have been
correctly applied.1 I agree that this is also a problem. But it is completely
barrenwithin the context of consistency because it questions the very basis
from which the consistency problem derives its significance. For, this
epistemological problem ariseswith every applicationof a rule (and, indeed,
an analogous problem ariseswith all communication) while the consistency
problem arises with specific sets of rules.


Wittgenstein simply did not know what to say about the paradoxes.
I don't either. But one thing is clear: the fruitful problem is not to 'get
rid of them' but to get something out of them. Godel got his general
results on formal systems out of one set of paradoxes,Loeb got a beautiful
result out of another.
I myself have found the following version of Russell'sparadoxilluminat-
ing, though it does not seem to lend itself to generalisation.
Recall first that in one definition of natural numbers in set theory,
the null set correspondsto the number o and, if N correspondsto n, No{N}
corresponds to the successor of n. There is no greatest integer because
N,{N} is not included in N.
Now let us consider any set A with the property (f) that its members
do not belong to themselves, i.e. X c A-* X X, and hence A + A. So
A,{A} also has the property 9. In other words the Russellparadoxinvolves
the same argument as the theorem that there is no greatest integer, and at
the sametime suggestsa naturalway ofgeneralisingthe successorconstruction.
(From this point of view the RussellParadoxdoes not seem more astonishing
than a child's assumption that there is a greatest integer: we have over-
looked the fact that not every property has a definite extension.)
It is hard to say something really coherent about the paradoxes,but one
can do better than speak of a head of Janus looking down on the other
propositions(p. 131, 59), though I like the psychological accuracyof p. 3 I,

13 PersonalNote
I knew Wittgenstein from 1942 to his death. We spent a lot of time
together talking about the foundations of mathematics, at a stage when I
had read nothing on it other than the usual Schundliteratur.I realise now
from this book that the topics raisedwere far from the centre of his interest
though he never let me suspect it.
rightabouthis criticismis this: if one is concernedwith realiability
a realisticsense,thenit would be wrongto consideronly the abstractrulesandnot
What remainsto me of the agreeableillusionsproducedby the discussions
of this period is, perhaps, this: every significant piece of mathematics
has a solid mathematical core (p. 142, 16) and if we look honestly, we shall
see it. That is why Hilbert-Bernays vol. II, and particularly Herbrand's
theorem satisfied me: it separates out the combinatorial (quantifier-free)
part of a proof (in predicate logic) which is specific to the particular case,
from the 'logical' steps at the end. Certain interpretations of arithmetic
and analysis have a similar appeal for me. I realise that there are other points
of view,1 but for the branches of mathematics just mentioned, I still see
the mathematical core in the combinatorial or constructive aspect of the
I did not enjoy reading the present book. Of course I do not know what
I should have thought of it fifteen years ago; now it seems to me to be a
surprisingly insignificant product of a sparkling mind.

Dept. of Mathematics
University of Reading

Here follows a list of correctionsto Miss G. E. M. Anscombe'stranslation.

p. 17, line 22, read ' again' for ' even '.
p. 79, line 23, read ' of intersectionof significantsentences' for ' to divide significant
p. 89, line 13, read' the following point constantlyoccursto me ' for ' I am constantly
struck by the following'.
p. 153,line Io, read' definition 'for 'explanation'.
p. I60, line 13 from bottom, read 'something like ' for ' as it were '.
p. I68, line 4 read 'take the metaphysicalsting out of it' for 'extract the meta-
physical thorn'.
lines 6 and 5 from bottom, read ' this way of calculatingled to the loss of human
lives' for ' many human lives had been lost through this way of calculating'.
p. 169, line 7, read ' cancelling' for' reduction'.
line I from bottom, read ' destroy' for 'nullify'.
p. I70, line Io from bottom, read' rigour ' for' strictness'.
p. I74, line 7 from bottom, read ' by-pass it' for ' pass it by'.
line 5 from bottom read ' continuouslyand without ' for 'without omission or
p. 177, line 5, read 'i.e. we' for 'and hence'.
p. 183, line I2, read' $ ' for' 50'.
p. 187, line 10, read' deranged' for 'not competent to calculate'.
E.g. a purely abstractpoint-of view: J. P. Serre once told me that he saw the
mathematicalcore of the Chineseremaindertheoremin a certainresultof cohomology